The Mississippi County Sheriff's Department received approval Friday to fill four positions that were already funded in 2013's budget, but had been vacated.
Sheriff Dale Cook and other department representatives brought their request before the Quorum Court's Personnel Committee, a requirement since the Court placed a freeze on all hires unless given special approval.
Cook said the four positions he wishes to fill, two in patrol and two in the jail, were already funded and had been recently vacated by employees who left to work elsewhere. He added that he does have additional empty positions which were not funded and will remain open as part of the freeze.
One of the open patrol positions is to be filled by a deputy whose salary will be mostly paid by the city of Joiner, in a special agreement made between the city and the Sheriff's Department.
Cook presented a draft of the agreement to the committee, which says the city of Joiner will commit to providing two patrol vehicles and their insurance, as well as $30,000 a year toward the salary of a deputy whose main duty will be to patrol the Joiner area. If an emergency arises elsewhere in the county, the deputy would answer the Sheriff's Department to assist. With this agreement in place, the department will be able to fill an empty deputy slot with a cost of approximately $14,000, which would round out the expenses of the deputy's salary, benefits and insurance.
"We have a big county with a lot of roads, and we have a lot of drug traffic," said Cook. "I'd like to have twice as many deputies, but we don't have the funding. I'd suggest smaller cities like Dyess and Keiser or other smaller cities in the county get together if they want to combine their money and fund an officer to patrol their area. This way the officer is under our control and we give them their retirement, and they are subject to our training and equipment, which provides a higher level of law enforcement for the local areas."
Justices discussed the fact that the purpose of the freeze committee is to decide where downsizing can be done as employee slots open up.
"In my opinion, no one office is more important than the other," said Justice Fred Fleeman. "But when you call the sheriff you want a deputy to come. These are frozen positions and I don't think this is the right place to try to downsize."
Cook received permission to fill all four slots, though he said he currently only had candidates for two of them.